The first Correctional Officer (CO) I met was straight out of Deliverance. I came in with a young black guy who mumbled and a middle-aged Chinese man who spoke broken English, but at least I could decipher their words. The CO was harder to understand. Manchester, Kentucky is tucked in an Appalachian mountain hollow, and he had apparently never left. When he sauntered into the austere, concrete holding room and asked the Chinese man his name, the man replied, “Shoi-ming Chung.”
“Sesame Chicken?” replied the CO; laughing uproariously and then repeating it twice as if it were the funniest thing he’d ever heard.
He sent me to a heavyset nurse for a battery of questions.
“Height and weight?” she asked.
“5’6”, 120 pounds.”
She examined my slight frame and frowned. “Education level?”
She shot me a skeptical look. “Last profession?”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, I’ll put it down if ya want. If ya wanna play games, play games. You’ll fit right in – we got ones who think they’re Jesus Christ, too.”
Another guard escorted me to a bathroom without a door. He was morbidly obese and spoke gruffly in a thick Kentucky drawl. “Stree-ip,” he commanded. I did. “Tern’round,” he barked. I did.
“Open up yer prison wallet,” he ordered.
I looked at him quizzically.
“Tern’round and open up yer butt cheeks.”
“Alright, you’se good to go.”
The last stop was in the office of the counselor, a wiry, compact sandy-haired man wearing a light blue polo-style shirt and a wispy mustache. He flipped through the pre-sentencing report, pausing briefly to absorb the case summary, and shook his head. “This is crazy,” he said quietly, without looking at me. “You shouldn’t be here. Waste of time. Money. Space.”
A waste – exactly! Finally, someone agreed. But by now, it was too late.
* * *
Five years earlier, at age 29, I’d challenged the scion of Missouri’s leading political dynasty; I came within 1.6% of toppling him and reaching Congress. An award-winning film chronicling the campaign titled, Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? earned a cult-like following among young politicos around the country. Two years later, in 2006, I was elected to the state Senate.
Then one day in 2009, two FBI agents knocked on my door. Hours later, my political career was over, and I realized I was probably going to prison.
Let me explain how that happened – and how you can keep it from happening to you. But if you do screw up, as I did, let me then humbly offer some advice on how to recover.
Click here to read the rest of Jeff Smith’s extraordinary chapter by purchasing The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis for only 99 cents this week only.